I won’t be buying a copy of Infinite Warfare when it launches next month, on November 4th. For the past few years I have become more and more alienated from a franchise that had once opened my eyes to the magical realm of online multiplayer. For that I’ll always be thankful, but try as I might, I simply can’t get behind Call of Duty and its current trajectory.
Compared to Modern Warfare, Black Ops, and even Ghosts, more recent games in the series have built themselves around a frenetic, highly customisable format. We now have wall-running, jetpacks, exoskeletons, and a loadout screen that look more and more like a character select menu. For some fans, these new systems signal landmark changes for an admittedly ageing formula, and the series still sells millions and millions of copies each year. For many of the old guard such as myself, however, the change in pace has been hard to get used to as we veer further into a sci-fi inspired future.
If you’ve played Black Ops III or Advanced Warfare, not much will surprise you in this year’s sequel. Mobility is still a massive focus with double jumps, wall runs, and powerslides allowing players to navigate each map in double time. While hunting for enemies it triggers a frantic juggling act of sorts, as players hurtle about, looking for anything that moves. There’s a real finesse to simultaneously managing the terrain around you and popping off shots, hoping they find they intended target, and it can certainly feel fluid and liberating at times, though missing a ledge grab or accidentally prolonging a wall run often results in frustration as fingers fumble at the gamepad.
What made last year’s Call of Duty so intriguing was its use of named characters. Each of them had a personality to match their unique combat skills. Where Prophet would tease his foes by turning back the clock, Ruin could fall from the sky to unleash havoc on his foes. The introduction of Specialists gave Black Ops III an edge – one that had clearly taken cues from the burgeoning subgenre now ruled by Overwatch and Paladins.
Infinite Warfare takes the same approach though with a little more subtlety. Its “Rigs” effectively play on the same concept, but encourage players to experiment more in terms of loadout and visual customisation. Each one has its own selection of Payloads – powerful abilities that can be likened to a special power of sorts. For instance, the Warfighter can whip out a advanced spread shot rifle, perfect for rounding corners, while the heavier Merc rig can whip out a shield during their Bull Charge, mowing down anyone that strays too close.
On top of the well-established killstreaks, they add yet another hazard that players need to constantly be aware of. Getting picked off by the occasional airstrike is fair enough, but also having to worry about getting turned to dust by the FTL’s Eraser pistol just moments after your respawn saps some more of the fun. So does the constant need to question your loadout. The more complicated it gets, the more I’ve convinced myself that some combinations give an inarguable advantage over others.
After putting a fair amount of time into the beta, I’m left feeling kind of sorry for Infinity Ward. Their last entry, Call of Duty: Ghosts was a tragic cut-off point for the series – a deflating last hurrah for the shooter’s previous template. Now, with Sledgehammer and Treyarch having capitalised on its recent change in direction, Infinity Ward have been left without much new or exciting to bring to the table. The movement remains unchanged since Black Ops III, which could now become the series’ status quo, while the loadout system actually feels like a step back in some ways, burdening players with too many choices.
Living alongside this, we have Modern Warfare Remastered for the generation of gamer that matured with earlier games in the series, and I hope that Activision decide to sell it separately some time down the line. I does worry me, however, that this was needed to recapture that Call of Duty magic instead of making innovative well-rounded changes to the series’ divisive new formula.